Social Media Now Central in the Path to Purchase

Almost 10 years ago, Forrester found that 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine.  Five years ago, BIA/Kelsey said that 97% of consumers go online to research local products and services. While these stats are outdated, there is no denying that today online research is an integral part of the path to purchase.

The way in which consumers research online is where it gets more nuanced. While 10 years ago it may have been true that the majority of people start with a search engine, the proliferation of mobile devices and the applications that come with them, particularly social media apps, have impacted overall search traffic.

The difficulty here is connecting social media activity and the consumer’s path to purchase. According to a Google study, social media plays an “assist” role when it comes to online purchases and AOL Advertising similarly said that social is most likely to serve as a middle touchpoint on the path to purchase.

Claiming social has an “assist” role in the “middle” of the path might be a testament to the lack of accurate attribution and ROI on these social networks. Either way, study after study identifies social media, specifically Facebook, as an important piece to the fragmented, non-linear path to purchase.

Facebook recently attempted to better connect the dots by commissioning Ipsos Media CT to study social media habits of shoppers from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. The findings were interesting:

  • 66% of these shoppers check in on Facebook while they shop
  • 77% post product reviews on Facebook after a purchase often with photos and videos

The report went on to say that “a frictionless, integrated experience may be the reason shoppers choose one brand over another.” This suggests having an active presence beyond just Facebook.

According to Shareaholic, social is now the top source of referral traffic to content on the web, just passing search last September. The study also said that the top eight social networks drove 31.24% of overall traffic to sites in December 2014. Mobile had a lot to do with that.

In Q1 this year Facebook reported 1.44 billion active monthly users and 87% of these active monthly users use Facebook on their mobile devices. Similarly, last year comScore said that social networking was the top category in terms of overall digital engagement and generated more than 70% of its activity on mobile.

From a device perspective, mobile has been the biggest disruptor in the path to purchase. In the retail space for example, showrooming and the ease of conducting product/service research via mobile has changed the game. According to a previous xAd and Telmetrics study, 21% of consumers utilize smartphones all the way through the research process and 32% use tablets all the way through.


Social, with the help of mobile, is firmly integrated into the consumer’s path to purchase. From seeking recommendations from friends on Facebook, to following brands on Twitter for deals or to learn more about the company, social isn’t just a customer retention tool. In fact, studies suggest social has a strong influence on consumer demand, traffic, interest and even conversions.

3 Responses to “Social Media Now Central in the Path to Purchase”

  1. Really important post Joe,

    It is important to know what are the changes between social media and organic search. As the social promotion and traffic is getting more important day by day but still main source of traffic depends on organic traffic.
    So can you please say that social improvement is a huge ranking factor or not ?

  2. admin says:

    Social presence (active social accounts, regular content, likes, shares, etc.) is definitely an important search ranking factor. To see just how much of a factor, check out Moz’s latest Local Search Ranking Factors here:

  3. Atul Mandal says:

    Hello Joe,
    Thanks for sharing this important and valuable article. I am a new marketing analyser, every point you have shared is very impressive. Thanks again.

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